Creating An Accessible Garage

The American garage is a catch-all repository of junk. It is the storage spillover area of the home. When the house can no longer contain them, it’s all there – rejected furniture, used appliances, defunct electronics, toys, and boxes of old clothes. This is in addition to the usual items stored there: tools, lawn equipment, automotive items, camping gear, sports equipment and sometimes recycling. Trying to get everything to fit and stay neat is a challenge.

Accessibility for your garage begins with being able to get into it easily. Most modern garage doors have automatic openers, these are equipped with electronic sensors to prevent the door from closing on people or objects. A keypad outside can control the door if you aren’t in your vehicle or don’t have your keys – it is important to make sure this keypad has easy-to-read lighted buttons and that it is mounted at a comfortable height for all users.

Most building codes require a step down into a garage to prevent spilled chemicals and carbon monoxide fumes from entering the house. Steps up to the house would necessitate using a ramp in order for a wheelchair to gain entrance. Some building codes require the garage floor to slope from front to back. There are also specific requirements for ramps. Consult a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (on The Move Makers staff) for this. If a ramp isn’t necessary, install handrails on both sides of the steps into the home that are 34” to 38” high and can support at least 250 pounds. The width of the door into the house should be at least 32” wide (the front door is usually 36”). A lever-style door handle is preferred over round ones.

In order to make your garage space more accessible, think about how it is organized. Can you park your car in the garage? If so, are there clear paths on either side of it leading to the door of the house? Are stored items off the floors and put on shelves? Having a tidy garage just isn’t nice, it’s essential for people with mobility issues. Pathways must be kept clear to avoid trips and falls. Get rid of items that are never going to be used or are broken – you can take junk to the local dump or hire a garbage hauling service. Take old electronics to appropriate recycling centers. Even old paint can be recycled at Metro Central and South stations. Check on Metro’s website for places to recycle other hard to recycle items (styrofoam, batteries, bulbs, etc.).

For what you need to store in the garage, check out the many garage organizing systems and shelving units sold at home improvement stores. Also, consider storing items in high wall cabinets or on pegboards. Cabinetry should have magnetic latches or hardware that has C or D shaped handles. Avoid storing items overhead and always put heaviest items closer to the floor and in rolling containers to avoid lifting them. If you use storage containers, choose clear ones and keep them open as much as possible in order to visualize and get to those items easier.

Lighting should be full-spectrum in overhead fixtures, this eliminates shadows for people with limited vision. Electrical outlets should be easily accessed, if they aren’t, use power strips to minimize bending and reaching. Using long-life bulbs reduces the need for frequent bulb replacement. Install task lighting at the workbench. Replace your old-style toggle wall switches with lighted rocker-style switches or motion-sensor lights. Keep your cell phone with you while in the garage in case of an accident or a fall.

Be sure to clean the floor of debris and scraps from projects quickly. Repair cracks in the floor and consider painting it with a traction paint to prevent slipping in areas that may get wet. Be careful about how you store flammable or poisonous liquids. Keep them out of reach of children and provide adequate ventilation. If no windows exist, you may consider installing vents or an exhaust fan. Fumes can pose a danger, especially around gas water heaters with pilot lights that are often located in the garage.

When you open your garage door, your neighbors see a microcosm of your home. It represents how you organize your home and your life. It is also an access point to your home. Keeping it organized, safe and accessible can assist all members of your family regardless of age or ability.